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Friends of the Hays Dog Park see project come to fruition





There were at least a few, brave souls -- and their pets -- who ventured out into the winter cold to take advantage of opening day for the Hays Dog Park.

Jeff Hensley and Joseph Romance brought Bailey, a 9-month-old Brittany, to the park Saturday afternoon to let her frolic in the snow.

"We walk her. It's still nice to give her a place to run free for a little while," Romance said. "She's very social. She's always very friendly."

Hays City Commissioner Eber Phelps and his wife, Joni, brought their two rat terriers, Marshall and Phoebe, to the dog park.

"I told her ... that for historical purposes, we should be out here on the very first day, just give it a test run," Phelps said.

Their dogs seemed to enjoy racing through the snow, pausing from time to time to let nature take its course. That's what the nearby bags are for, making it easy for owners to clean up after their pets.

"They just love it. They love the snow," Joni Phelps said.

Kim Perez, president of Friends of the Hays Dog Park, a grassroots organization that raised the money for the park, said earlier last week she planned to be there Saturday but added it would be bittersweet. She helped start the campaign for a dog park in 2011, when she had a pair of dogs. But she lost one of her dogs approximately two months ago.

"I was hoping to get her in the park," Perez said. "That being said, I'm also thrilled."

Friends of the Hays Dog Park raised approximately $65,000 to complete Phase I and Phase II for the park to get it open.

Phase III will require approximately $30,000 and will add additional picnic tables, benches and shelter houses.

"I think it's exciting to have it here in Hays," Hensley said. "Maybe not when it's 25 degrees."

A grand opening for the park is scheduled for April 26, when it likely will be warmer than the mid-20s, as was the case Saturday.

"As soon as it warms up, my plan is to be here every day, most every day," Romance said.

That's the plan, Perez said.

"They're becoming more popular in towns," she said. "Part of the reason is people realize that a well-exercised dog is a healthier dog, and it's going to create less problems for the owners.

"The hope then is fewer surrenders, fewer dogs end up at the Humane Society. (The dog park) also creates a network of people who are interested in responsible dog ownership. You meet people out there, get ideas from them."

Perez never had been part of a grassroots fundraising campaign. There were times she wondered whether they would be able to pull it off.

"A year ago, I didn't think it was going to happen. I just wasn't sure," Perez said.

A $10,000 donation in July in honor of Henry and Juliette Schwaller helped provide the impetus to reach the fundraising goal, Perez said.

"Over the course of this year, it just gained momentum," Perez said.

The dog park is located adjacent to Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex.